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Cosmic Mountains of Creation – New NASA Image

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JPL: A new image from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope reveals billowing mountains of dust ablaze with the fires of stellar youth.

The image composite compares an infrared image taken by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope to a visible-light picture of the same region (inset). While the infrared view, dubbed “Mountains of Creation,” reveals towering pillars of dust aglow with the light of embryonic stars (white/yellow), the visible-light view shows dark, barely-visible pillars. The added detail in the Spitzer image reveals a dynamic region in the process of evolving and creating new stellar life.

Captured by Spitzer’s infrared eyes, the majestic image resembles the iconic “Pillars of Creation” picture taken of the Eagle Nebula in visible light by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope in 1995. Both views feature star-forming clouds of cool gas and dust that have been sculpted into pillars by radiation and winds from hot, massive stars.

The Spitzer image, which can be found here, shows the eastern edge of a region known as W5, in the Cassiopeia constellation 7,000 light-years away. This region is dominated by a single massive star, whose location outside the pictured area is “pointed out” by the finger-like pillars. The pillars themselves are colossal, together resembling a mountain range. They are more than 10 times the size of those in the Eagle Nebula.

The largest of the pillars observed by Spitzer entombs hundreds of never-before-seen embryonic stars, and the second largest contains dozens.

“We believe that the star clusters lighting up the tips of the pillars are essentially the offspring of the region’s single, massive star,” said Dr. Lori Allen, lead investigator of the new observations, from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge, Mass. “It appears that radiation and winds from the massive star triggered new stars to form.”

Spitzer was able to see the stars forming inside the pillars thanks to its infrared vision. Visible-light images of this same region show dark towers outlined by halos of light. The stars inside are cloaked by walls of dust. But infrared light coming from these stars can escape through the dust, providing astronomers with a new view.

“With Spitzer, we can not only see the stars in the pillars, but we can estimate their age and study how they formed,” said Dr. Joseph Hora, a co-investigator, also from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

Also posted at VERMONT SPACE
(very cool pictures indeed)

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About Bennett Dawson

  • These fiery furnaces that create stars and lighted nebula are so much like Van Gogh; the universe and the infinite.

    Your post and blog are fine.

    When I was a child I so wanted a telescope and made do with 8×50 binoculars swiped from my uncle. Now all I need is a trip to Blogcritics, your Vermont Space, AOPD, Russell Croman’s site or Space.com.

  • Bennett

    Thanks alpha! It’s fascinating stuff, so far beyond what I ever thought I’d see. We do live in exciting times, and not a year goes by without some amazing images from the telescopes we have all helped to fund.


  • Man, this is awe inspiring stuff Bennett, thanks!

    And I love your line about “billowing mountains of dust ablaze with the fires of stellar youth.”


    On a semi-related note, was driving in the high desert north of Los Angeles this evening and saw about the largest full moon I’ve ever seen. It was like I was in a film, the moon shining so brightly on the mountains and desert highway. I started playing “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” from Nirvana’s Unplugged album for some reason. Opened the window and sang along, going 75 or so. Quite a scene it was!

  • That first photo is one of the coolest things I have ever seen. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant.

  • Bennett

    EB – Nirvana and moonlight on high desert(at speed) go very well together.

    As does AC/DC.

  • DJR – I know, this aint TV here! Kinda stimulating to the mind gland.

  • Bennett, thank you for continuing to present this sorta thing on here so that my ignorant eyes can see. Those are some awe-inspiring images, and the enthusiasm you understandably have for it all, god almighty, gets a fella all giddied up himself! and at half three in the mornin he can hardly afford it. but still, those are beautiful images right there…

  • Cool images. Wish I had something to take with them.

    Puts quite a perspective on all the petty quibbling that takes place on our little speck of dust. You should go to the Politics section, flash this picture to whoever you are dealing with and say, “Everything you know is wrong.” You’d win every time.

    Bring your scope to Vegas and we’ll hit the desert.

  • By the way, isn’t “Pillars” on the cover of a Pearl Jam disc?

  • “Wish I had something to take with them.”

    Heh, oooooooooh colors! Yeah, me too! We’re also agreed about how it puts a bit of perspctive to the squabbles, but whatcha gonna do?

    Re: Pearl Jam, not sure, haven’t seen it, good for them!

  • What a great post and great photos. I have to send the link to my grandson.